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J. Edgar

by AKA23
posted on 11/15/11
I saw "J. Edgar" a couple of days ago. The acting by Leonadrdo Dicaprio was great. It's the best performance I've ever seen him give. With the exception of "Blood Diamond," which I enjoyed, I am not the biggest fan of Dicaprio as an actor. In this film, however, I felt he gave an Oscar-caliber performance. I would not be at all surprised if he won his first Oscar this year. Dicaprio's performance is the strongest thing in the film. Despite this, I don't think he was the ideal choice for the role. I think Philip Seymour Hoffman would have been a much better choice, as he would have been able to more convincingly portray Hoover as an older man, and would have been better at conveying his inner demons and moral depravity. Even though I thought Dicaprio was miscast, I thought the performance he did give was excellent.

As for the other members of the cast, I thought Armie Hammer did very well, and would not be at all surprised to see him score a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. With the exception of the hotel scene, where I felt his acting was too showy and not realistic (think Angelina Jolie in "Changeling"), his is a very understated performance. He was perfectly cast in the role. Judi Dench and Naomi Watts are both fine, but mostly wasted in their roles. Neither role gives them much to do, and neither role really warranted actresses of their caliber.

Technically, I felt the film was very good as well. The cinematography and costume design were very good. The make-up for the most part was good, although I didn't feel they did a very good job with aging Armie Hammer. I think it probably would have been more realistic and believable had Eastwood chosen to use computers rather than make-up to age the characters, but that's not what he chose to do. I expect an Academy Award nomination for Best-Make up.

This film has the hallmarks of Eastwood all over it. The subdued nature of it, the washed out cinematography, the understated score, the chiarascuro lighting, and the attempt to present a balanced portrait of a very complicated man. The problems that I had with this film were in the script. It is all over the place, and the focus in parts is off. The film spends an inordinate amount of time on the Charles Lindbergh kidnapping, which is a mostly uninvolving storyline, yet gives short shrift to the Civil Rights Movement, and many other more significant historical events that are far more interesting.

Overall, I think the screenplay tries to do far too much, and it is in the writing where this film falls short. I think it would have been a more effective film had Eastwood chosen to focus on a few specific, significant historical periods in a more linear fashion. As it is, the coverage is too broad, and the events that are highlighted are not always the most interesting or important in Hoover's life. The script needed a few rewrites before being shot. I think this is a case where Eastwod's penchant for shooting the first draft doesn't always serve him. Had this been rewritten a few more times, I think it would have resulted in a more focused film.

Historically, I also had a few problems with the film. This paragraph has a few minor spoilers, but they have been written about in most of the press reports. Eastwood says that he took great pains to ensure that everything was historically accurate, but the hotel scene in particular, with the infamous kiss between the two, is not a documented evident, nor is the scene where he chooses to wear his mother's dress. The dress event in particular was only suggested by one person, who had been convicted of a crime, and had an axe to grind against Hoover. There is zero historical evidence that Hoover was a cross-dresser. Had I directed this film, I wouldn't have included either of these scenes. Both are done in a sensitive and understated fashion, but both cannot be substantiated on the basis of the historical record. I think the scene of them holding hands in the back of the limousine is fine. It hints at a possible homosexual relationship, but doesn't definitively state that one exists. I think that can be justified. There is considerable debate about whether Hoover and Tolson were engaged in a homosexual relationship, and I think it's fine to allude to that possibility in the film. I think that the scenes with them holding hands, and their demeanor together, were more than enough to convey the possibility of a homosexual relationship between Tolson and Hoover. I personally didn't appreciate the hotel scene or the cross-dressing scene. I don't think either can be proven, and I was disappointed that Eastwood chose to portray something that was not factually accurate in a film that he claims was based on the historical record.

Besides the script, which I had my problems with, I felt the music in the film, which was composed by Eastwood, was very weak. The film would have been stronger and more powerful if it had a better score, but like all of his most recent films, Eastwood chose to go with the same few piano notes played over and over again. Sometimes it works, but in this particular film, the fact that the score did not serve the film in the best way was especially noticeable.

On balance, I liked the film far more than both "Invictus" and "Hereafter," but felt that it could have been better. The film is much better than the critical reception would have you believe. As the film seems to divide people, I will very much be looking forward to hearing the thoughts of everyone who does see this film, so please come back and post your thoughts in this thread.

As for my own thoughts, with the subject matter of the film, and the importance of Hoover as a historical figure, this film could have been a masterpiece. It isn't. It is merely a very good film. One that is most definitely worth seeing, but one that misses an opportunity to define Hoover more clearly, in a way that is more focused and interesting.

Holden, what did you think of this film? As a fellow Eastwood fan, I'll be looking forward to hearing your thoughts. Where is Holden anyway? I don't see him posting anymore, and I miss his posts!